The US government has issued a new moratorium on evictions that will last until 3 October, following mounting pressure on Joe Biden to take action to help keep Americans in their homes as Covid-19 continues to spread.
The moratorium, signed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday, comes as the Delta variant drives a surge in cases nationwide, and as states have been slow to release federal rental aid.
The new order would temporarily halt evictions in counties with “substantial and high levels” of virus transmissions and would cover areas where 90% of the US population lives.
The announcement was something of a reversal for the Biden administration, which initially said that a supreme court ruling prevented a fresh ban after a prior moratorium lapsed at the end of July.
Biden had faced intensifying criticism from lawmakers within his own party that he was failing to protect millions of American from losing their homes at a time when the pandemic is far from over. The president had stopped short on Tuesday afternoon of announcing the new moratorium during a press conference at the White House, ceding the responsibility to the CDC.
“My hope is it’s going to be a new moratorium,” Biden told reporters.
The move is a win for progressive lawmakers, who have been camped for days outside the Capitol with dozens of supporters, trying to pressure the administration to put the moratorium back in place.
The administration had repeatedly resisted another extension because the supreme court appears likely to block it. When the court allowed the eviction ban to remain in place through the end of July by a 5-4 vote, one justice in the majority, Brett Kavanaugh, wrote that Congress would have to act to extend it further.
While as many as 3.6 million Americans are at risk of eviction, the administration has also emphasized that money has already been approved and many Americans will be able to stay housed with the efforts under way.
The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, had called the prospect of widespread evictions “unfathomable”. The Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and other progressive lawmakers intensified pressure on the White House to issue an immediate extension.
One Democrat, representative Cori Bush of Missouri, has been camped outside the US Capitol in protest since the weekend.
“On Friday night, I came to the Capitol with my chair. I refused to accept that Congress could leave for vacation while 11 million people faced eviction. For 5 days, we’ve been out here, demanding that our government acts to save lives. Today, our movement moved mountains,” she tweeted after the announcement.
On Friday night, I came to the Capitol with my chair. I refused to accept that Congress could leave for vacation while 11 million people faced eviction.
For 5 days, we’ve been out here, demanding that our government acts to save lives.
Today, our movement moved mountains.
— Cori Bush (@CoriBush) August 3, 2021
Bush was joined overnight on Monday by the New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the California representative Jimmy Gonzalez and others who gave her a brief reprieve so she could rest indoors. Bush also had a brief conversation Monday at the Capitol with Vice-President Kamala Harris.
“People could be helped right now,” said Bush, a first-term, St Louis-area lawmaker who has shared her own story of living temporarily in her car as a young mother years ago. “We need that moratorium.”
The CDC put the first eviction ban in place as part of the Covid-19 response when jobs shifted and many workers lost income. The ban was intended to hold back the spread of the virus among people put out on the streets and into shelters.
Mass evictions could potentially worsen the recent spread of the Delta variant as roughly 1.4 million households told the Census Bureau they could “very likely” be evicted from their rentals in the next two months. Another 2.2 million say they’re “somewhat likely” to be evicted.